Advancing from Outsider to Insider: A Grounded Theory of Professional Identity Negotiation
Groen, Cassandra J.
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As evidenced by a large body of research within the engineering education community, those individuals who do not maintain a sense of belonging, identify with engineering groups, or perceive themselves as engineers are more likely to leave the profession. However, little is known about the ways in which engineering students construct or develop their personal and professional identities as influenced by the disciplinary values, behaviors, and practices learned during the undergraduate education experience. In order to deepen the understanding of professional identity formation within the engineering disciplines, a grounded theory study was conducted to explore the experiences of 31 sophomore, junior, and senior level undergraduate students enrolled in a civil engineering program. Upon conducting an iterative process of data collection and analysis, a theory of professional identity negotiation emerged from interviews depicting participants' experiences. This theory titled Negotiating Equilibrium: Advancing from Outsider to Insider or the AOI Model, captures the identities negotiated by students as they iteratively define, adjust, and readjust definitions of self and profession to maintain a balance between their personal self and the learned disciplinary identity of the civil engineering profession. As participants gained this balance, they began to see themselves as professionals and advance from an outsider (i.e., one not belonging to the civil engineering profession) to an insider (i.e., one belonging to the civil engineering profession). The AOI Model provides a framework for researchers to further explore professional identity formation, promotes the development of identity-influencing coursework and instructor teaching approaches, and inspires future research trajectories in engineering and civil engineering education.
- Doctoral Dissertations